The Pentagon announced Thursday that two more Marines and a soldier from North Carolina bases have died in Iraq.
Cpl. Joshua M. Schmitz, 21, of Spencer, Wis., was killed in combat Tuesday, and Lance Cpl. William C. Koprince Jr., 24, of Lenoir City, Tenn., on Wednesday. Both were Marines stationed at Camp Lejeune and were attached to the 3rd Battalion, 2nd Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, II Marine Expeditionary Force.
Spc. Michael J. Crutchfield, 21, of Stockton, Calif., died Dec. 23 in Balad, Iraq, from an injury unrelated to combat. He was assigned to the 3rd Battalion, 4th Air Defense Artillery Regiment at Fort Bragg.
In Iraq, Schmitz and Koprince were assigned to one of the most dangerous parts of what for U.S. troops is the most dangerous province in Iraq. They were stationed at Camp Habbaniyah, 35 miles west of Baghdad, where their unit is responsible for security in the suburbs, small towns and countryside between Fallujah and Ramadi.
Koprince's father, William Sr., said his son was killed when an improvised bomb exploded nearby while he was on foot patrol.
He said his son had been a man of few words, and when talking to family members, he had been even tighter with information on his work in Iraq, apparently to keep them from worrying excessively.
"He'd say things like, 'We're doing OK,' or 'No news is good news,' " his father said. "Once, he said he had seen more than he wanted to see, and that that was all he wanted to say about it."
Koprince graduated from Lenoir City High School in 2001, then worked for a pizza shop for a couple of years. In early 2003, he decided he should do his part to fight terrorists, his father said.
A visit to a Marine recruiter left Koprince a little unsure, and his father said that maybe he should consider the Air Force, where he could be practically guaranteed a warm bed every night, no crawling around in the mud and no one shooting at him.
"He said 'Nope, I want to be a Marine,' " his father said. "He decided he wanted to be the best of the best."
Allye Ratledge, the wife of a Marine serving with Koprince, sent an e-mail message to Koprince's family that offered just a sliver of what his life was like in camp but was more than they had known.
"[My husband] said on one of his most recent phone calls that Billy was always quick to make people smile while making the most of a terrible situation. I know [he] loved Billy very much. He was his brother. This loss will be extremely difficult for him and the entire India Company family," she wrote.
One thing the family knew was that when Koprince's unit came home in February, he and a bunch of the guys planned to use part of their 30-day leave to visit Hawaii.
Koprince's last e-mail message to his family, on Christmas Day, was characteristically brief.
His mother had sent him family photos from Christmas Eve.
"He said he'd got the pictures, he'd gotten his packages, that Santa had come, and everything was OK," his father said.
Koprince's other survivors include his mother, Bernice; his sister, Morgan Moore; and his brother-in-law, Andy Moore.
Schmitz had been a football player at Loyal High School.
"He was just such a good person," his cousin Kristie Schmitz, 21, told The Associated Press. "I think he just wanted to do something for our country."
Kristie Schmitz said her cousin played linebacker for Loyal, according to the AP.
Joe Anderson, the school's choir director and the football team statistician, said Schmitz was tough on the field.
"Very intense love for football," Anderson said. "He was pretty good."
Schmitz played drums in band and, after some coaxing, sang in the choir his senior year, Anderson said.
The last time he saw Schmitz was July, when his former student stopped by the school to visit him, the AP said. They talked for an hour about Iraq, where Schmitz had done one tour, Anderson said.
"He knew he had a duty to perform. He was making sure he performed what he was asked to do and serve his country," Anderson said. "It's too bad. I feel really bad he's gone. That's one thing about being a teacher. It hurts a lot to see students pass on before you. It's very sad, for sure. ... He was just an A-1 super kid."
Crutchfield's family couldn't be reached Thursday.
The Pentagon didn't say how he died. The cause of his death was under investigation, it said in a news release.
(News researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.)